The other day, someone asked me why I like to run marathons. I stood there for a moment in a stupor because I couldn’t think of a reasonable answer. It’s ludicrous if you think about it, running 26.2 miles. Suffering. Causing yourself so much pain and discomfort. Wanting to die at mile 23.
Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that I enjoy it because of the journey to get there. I enjoy the struggle. For me, the race itself is secondary to the accomplishment of getting there.
It’s difficult to motivate yourself to run everyday. Marathon training is a series of tedious and often painful battles. Each training run is a battle with your body and mind. It is your will forcing your body to adapt, to get stronger and to be more efficient.
Each battle gets you one step closer to the moment you have been training for, the war. And a marathon is a war. Twenty six miles and 385 yards of you vs. you. Hope vs. doubt. Mind vs. heart.
Marathon training mirrors life in this same way. We have everyday battles. Our goals and dreams aren’t easy to achieve, at least for most of us. There are obstacles that get in our way and unforeseen forces that want us to fail. And many of those battles are internal. As humans, we have a tendency to doubt ourselves.
When you are in one of those battles, remember this:
“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” - Jeremiah 29
Doesn’t that say it all?
We continue on because we have hope. We have faith in a promise. We have faith that God has a plan and He will show us the way.
During marathon training, I run everyday because I have faith that it will get me to where I need to be. Every step and every mile is an act of faith. I have a solid plan that will get me there.
God has a plan too. A plan to get you where you need to be. His plans aren’t our plans because we can’t see the big picture. So have faith in his plan and enjoy the journey.
Do you have faith in his plans for you?
Insanity is defined as doing something over and over again and expecting different results. Running is not insane, although many people would disagree. As runners, we run every day or every other day. We do it over and over again and we do it to see different results. That’s not insanity. That’s sheer madness.
Madness is defined as intense excitement or enthusiasm or senseless folly. It’s also defined as a nontechnical term for rabies… but let’s stick with the first definition.
That’s what running is for us. It’s intense enthusiasm. Have you ever met a runner that isn’t enthusiastic? Me neither. If we weren’t intense or excited to do it, we’d be sitting on the couch, getting fat. But we love running. We’re mad about it.
To non runners, it’s construed as senseless folly. It doesn’t make sense to them. Often when I tell people that I like to run long distances, the response I get is:
“Are you mad?”
Maybe we are. Maybe we’re mad about being healthier or faster. Maybe we’re mad about being active or getting to that next level.
Perhaps we’re mad about not being a part of the status quo. Insanity is being stagnant and stationary. Insanity is not pushing yourself and living your life on a rail. Insanity is being content.
Runners don’t run because they’re insane. We run to escape insanity.
We run because we’re mad.
What are you mad about?
Groups of geese fly over my house all the time, honking and dropping bombs in my yard. My poor dog doesn’t know what to make of them. She hears them cackling, tilts her head to one side and looks up at them in wonder. If I could read her mind I think she would be saying, “I wish I could fly.”
That’s how dogs think. They want to be part of a pack, a community of like-minded beings that have the same goals and ideals. Or maybe my dog just want’s to eat those geese.
Like the geese that fly together in perfect formation and the pack of dogs the roam the streets, we as humans need to be a part of a community as well. The desire to be a part of a community is built into our being. It’s natural.
Runners need to be a part of a community also. It’s not always about competing as an individual. We need a support group, a community of other runners that have the same goals. Here are three advantages of being a part of a running community:
1. Runners push each other. It’s not easy to motivate ourselves. We need other runners to hold us accountable, to hold our feet to the fire. We know what each other are capable of and since we have the same goals, we know how to get there.
2. We see each others flaws. The same way we can know each others strengths, we also know each other’s weak spots. Your fellow runners won’t force you to do something you are not capable of because doing so could lead to injury or worse. At the same time, it’s easy for runners to correct errors because we have been there and we know how to make improvements.
3. We compete together. You’ll see my flock in the picture above. We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve logged hundreds of miles, made great memories and built strong friendships along the way. There is nothing better than accomplishing a goal as a group. Individual goals are great but sharing a piece of your accomplishments with others makes it more fulfilling and meaningful.
What do you think? Are you a part of a running community or do you prefer to fly solo?
If that saying is true, then I am a chocolate glazed donut. I am a Zaxby’s chicken finger plate with a large coke Zero. I am a pack of chewy sweet tarts. Thank goodness we are not what we eat.
One of my many flaws is that I don’t have the best eating habits. As a runner I should probably be eating steamed vegetables and a grilled chicken breast everyday but instead, I enjoy cheeseburgers and french fries with lots of ketchup.
I’m not a glutton. I don’t eat these foods everyday but it’s what I prefer. I find it hard to resist the cravings. Snacking is where I keep it healthy. A protein bar or an apple will satisfy me during those in between meal times. It’s lunch and dinner time that I fail to eat healthy all the time, because typical health food just doesn’t seem to fill me.
When I think of health food, I envision rice cakes and broth. I think of celery sticks, kashi bars and skim milk and none of these foods appeal to me. I’d often rather go without.
So if you are reading this, I could use your advice. What healthy things do you eat? What tastes good but has low calories? What fuels you?
I hear this all the time, “I had to stop and walk. It was embarrassing.” Why do we feel shame in walking?
I used to feel shame in having to stop and walk. I hated to stop. In my mind, walking meant giving up. It was mainly an ego thing. It hurt my pride and if there were someone else running by me, I would make sure they didn’t see me walking. But the truth is, there is no shame in walking. Some days you have it and some days you don’t. There are times that, despite what you do, the body doesn’t respond. So, lets squash the idea that walking equals failure.
Have you ever watched race walking? These athletes are race walking:
It’s one of those obscure sports that you might watch on ESPN 8, the Ocho. It comes on right after dodgeball and before lawnmower racing. But did you know that it’s an Olympic event? Elite walkers, from all over the world, come together every four years to see who is the best and fastest… walker. So if walking is a world class sport, how can we be ashamed of doing it?
Some runners deliberately schedule walk breaks during their training runs and some even do it during a race.
Walking has it’s benefits. It’s easier on the joints. It keeps the heart rate where it needs to be. It helps with the mental challenges of long runs.
Trainer and running coach, Jeff Galloway, has developed a run-walk-run plan that helps people complete marathons. His success rate for this method is 98%. Now how can we argue with that?
Let’s swallow our pride and not beat ourselves up about having to walk. After all, the goal is to finish not break speed records.
Kung Fu is an ancient Chinese art. It’s been practiced for thousands of years. History books have been written about it. Movies have been made about it. You and your kid’s have probably taken Kung Fu lessons. The Shaolin monks have dedicated their lives to honing their Kung Fu skills and we, the runners, can reap the benefits of their life long dedication.
Everybody loves those old Kung Fu movies. The ones that are horribly dubbed by english translators. Where the guys fly around an old Chinese court yard and kick each other. Don’t lie. You know you love them too. (Yes, I have a Bruce Lee box set and No, you can’t borrow it.) But what does Kung Fu have to do with running other than dedication and practice? Let me tell you.
In ancient Shaolin Kung Fu lore, there are five fighting styles. Each is represented by an animal. They are the dragon, tiger, leopard, snake and crane. Here are the attributes of each and how you can compare them to running:
The Dragon - The dragon represents grace and beauty.
How graceful are you when you run? How is your form? Is it smooth or do you feel like your out there flailing away?
Good form conserves energy by eliminating wasteful movement. We often forget about form when we are in the moment or when we are tired. That’s why we need to focus and practice proper and graceful running form.
The Tiger - The tiger has great strength and power.
How do you build strength in your legs and core? Hills? Do you run the stairs at the local gym or stadium? Do you cross train? Leg and core strength are important to running longevity.
The Leopard - The leopard is known for it’s speed, agility and footwork.
We become faster and increase are leg turnover by doing speed work or fartleks. Footwork is important. Heel landings are bad. Forefoot or mid foot landings are good. Good speed work outs and footwork can make us more efficient and shave seconds, even minutes off of our race times.
The Snake - The snake is aggressive and defensive at the same time.
It’s important to know when to be aggressive. When do you make the move? At what point do you pick up the pace and sprint to the finish?
It’s also important to be defensive. Don’t start out to fast. Resist the urge to break to soon. Conserve your energy. Don’t let adrenaline and excitement get the most of you. Be aggressive at the right time and be defensive until then.
The Crane - The crane exercises patience.
Running takes time. We can’t get to where we want to be in a day or even a week. We need patience. It’s when we get ahead of ourselves that injuries occur. Sometimes we progress to fast in our training and our bodies aren’t ready for it yet. We need patience during races as well. Just like the snake, being aggressive to early could lead to disaster in the end.
Are you a Kung Fu runner? That’s okay. Neither am I. We may never be Kung Fu masters but we can certainly train like one.
What are some attributes of running that you find important to work on?
Have you ever met someone who loves the fact that they are long distance runners? That guy or girl who has the smug satisfaction on their face when they talk about all the half marathons and full marathons that they have ran? Without asking, they give you all the details of their last long run, right down to the last painful detail. They love to show off their scars and display their worn out running shoes. They are overly proud and braggadocios. These people are what we like to call, distance snobs.
I love telling people about my marathon experiences. I hope to encourage people to make the decision to do it for themselves and how it’s a life changing event. It’s fun to talk about but sometimes I have to fight the resistance to get in to all the details of how I sacrificed or how I did more than you and how I trained harder than you. It’s hard not to be prideful.
There is nothing wrong with sharing your accomplishments, especially when it comes to running marathons and halves. It takes a lot of dedication and you should be proud that you made the commitment. But most people don’t want to hear about it all the time, every minute and every hour. In fact, it can be quite discouraging. Don’t let the distance snob discourage you by making you feel like you’re not good enough.
The thing that separates distance snobs from other runner’s is the fact that they look down on people who run shorter distances.
For some runner’s, mainly beginners, the 5K and the 10K are big goals. Put yourself in their shoes. They may have never exercised. They may have never run more than half a mile. They may have looked at themselves in the mirror one day and decided that it was time for a change. Just finishing a 5K would be a huge win for them.
We all start running at some point. We have all taken that first step. I have met very few people who have bypassed the shorter races and gone straight to the marathon. These people are rare.
Distance snobs are bad for the sport. Runner’s need to encourage one another, despite the distance they run. We are a community and we should rely on each other to meet our goals.
Have you ever met a distance snob?
Running is therapeutic. It’s like a good massage when you are tense. It’s like having a good conversation with a friend or family member or taking a hot shower on a cold day. Running is an escape.
It’s not always about competing. Running is not always about hitting that personal best. It’s often about getting away and leaving the world behind.
Try it sometime. Pick a route you know. Take the watch off. Leave the iPod at home and just run. Forget about everything else. Hear the wind whistle in your ears. Feel your heart beating. Listen to how you breath. Disconnect.
“I can’t do that. I’m training for a marathon right now.” you say? All good marathon training plans have easy days in them. They are built in on purpose. Pick a route where you know the mileage and take it easy. The marathon is half mental. It put’s stress on the mind as well as the body. Give your mind a break and just run.
I won’t hurt your progress. I promise. In fact it may help.
I alluded to Zen running in a recent post about gadgets. Zen runners don’t need to be connected. They probably don’t want to be connected. Thats why we call them Zen runners. They run just to run.
Give it a try. Escape. Disconnect. Run free!
Question: Do you ever run just to escape life?
The modern day runner never has to run alone. There may not be a human being beside them as they run, keeping up with them stride for stride but todays runner is always connected. Unless you are a Zen runner. More on that later. This is the newest gadget that Nike just announced.
I am not a Nike salesman but I love gadgets. Especially sports or running gadgets and Nike makes some good ones. So when I saw this ad, my immediate thought was, “I have to have one.”
With today’s modern technology, the runner can be connected. We can track our every mile. We can see our pace. We can see our route with all it’s elevation changes and twists and turns. All of these stats can be collected on an internet site or computer program where they can be examined and analyzed.
I’ve tried a lot of gadgets over the years. Let me take you back.
I’m in the camp that has to have music or something to listen to while I run. When I first started running, there was no such thing as an MP3 player. They hadn’t been thought of yet. Instead, I had a half pound CD player. It was a science to learn to run with one of these things. I couldn’t strap it to my body because every step made the CD skip so I had to hold it in my hand the whole time and sort of balance it and keep it level. Sure I could have used a walkman but then I didn’t have a choice of what I wanted to listen to. The giant CD player had to do.
Needless to say, the iPod changed my life, although the early models couldn’t hold up to the bouncing. I killed two of them. Then Apple and Nike came up with a foot pod device that sort of kept track of your running. It was a small, bean like device that you put in the sole of select Nike shoes. It came with an adaptor that you hooked to the bottom of the iPod and the two talked to each other, at least in theory. I tried it. The foot pod and the iPod rarely connected and when they did the stats were never accurate.
The iPhone changed my life again. It can take a beating. Not only is it sturdy and resilient, it has all the technology I want, built in. There are numerous running apps for the iPhone. I prefer using the Nike GPS app. It keeps track of all my stats. It tells me where I am, how fast I’m going, when to turn around. Another thing I like about this app is that my friends and family can keep track of me via social networks. You can track me here: stewjitsu. My iPhone plays my music and is there for me in case I have an emergency. I rarely run without it.
I still have my Garmin but I primarily use it on race day. I find it has the most accurate GPS but it lacks the connectivity and bells and whistles of my iPhone.
Do you run with gadgets? Which ones do you use?
The marathon changes you. You are not the same after you complete 26.2 miles. You become a different person. You become someone new because you accepted the challenge. You paid the price. You accomplished your goal and you completed the journey. Thats right. The marathon is a Journey. It’s not just a single race. It is a change of lifestyle, whether temporarily or permanently. To undertake the marathon requires you to change what you do, to change what you think and to change how you live for month’s at a time.
If you are training for a spring marathon this year then you are probably right in the middle of some hard training. The miles are getting longer. The runs are getting more intense. The weather is getting colder. You are probably starting to feel the positive and negative effects of all the training on your body. Muscles are strained and fatigued. Joints are screaming. Blisters are forming. It would be easy at this point to give up and scrap the whole idea of running a marathon. It’s at this point where you have to decide to bail out or go all in. I know how you feel. I’m not telling you this as a casual observer but as someone who has been there.
In September of 2009, while I was training for Chicago, north Georgia experienced the worst flood in twenty years. The rain started a couple of days before one of my 20 mile long runs. The day of the run started out partly cloudy. There was a small reprieve from the monsoon. The rain began again when I approached mile 5 and it came down in earnest. I had never seen it rain so hard. I had no where to hide. There were no buildings to run into and the tree’s offered no relief. I was on an open trail and the rain came down so hard that the path went from trail to small creek. The water was up to my ankles in some spots and it was filling my shoes. I could have turned around at this point but I didn’t. I could have headed back and saved it for another day but I didn’t. The rain was a viable excuse to stop but I didn’t. This was where I decide that I was all in. This is where my journey truly began.
This rare Nike commercial best explains the point of when the change occurs and where a runner becomes a marathoner.
I know you are hurting right now but you are also getting stronger. You may not see how strong you are because of how sore and beat up you feel. After all the training tips, advice and motivation that you have been given, remember, there is only one person that can decide if you want to continue on with this journey… and that person is YOU.
Don’t give up.